District chief launches review
Katrise Perera, the new superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District, had only been on the job two days when she revealed she will assemble a group of advisers from outside the district to conduct a sweeping assessment of how the school district and its central office are performing.
"This district is not broken. Let me say that," Perera told The Outlook. But, she added, "There is always room to grow."
The Gresham-Barlow School Board on Thursday, July 6, cleared the way for Perera's review. It authorized the new superintendent to select a team of non-school district "advisers that will be assisted by Gresham-Barlow School District leaders and state education representatives to conduct a thorough review of the district's central office staffing efficiency, academic needs, operations and other areas as determined by Dr. Perera."
"It's not unusual for a new superintendent to conduct a review. It's a good practice," said Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association.
Such evaluations are not as common in Oregon as elsewhere.
"If you don't plan strategically and systematically," the new superintendent said, "you plan to fail."
OSBA's Green said that a review can help determine if "the district (is) operating at the highest level it possibly can." He also said it's a good way for a new superintendent to quickly become familiar with the district and community.
Perera, who has worked in several school districts, said "transition plans for me are pretty commonplace. I've been involved in them at different places where I've been. It is best practices."
She does not have any specific candidates in mind for the review committee.
"I'm looking for individuals who have credentials in curriculum and instruction," she said.
In a report to the board she noted she'll use the information garnered from the district review to determine the needs of the district, identify resources, set timelines and drive improvements in the district that will "positively impact student achievement/growth, financial austerity, increase organizational efficiency and improved status."
"This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the district," she said, adding that sometimes a fresh set of eyes is beneficial. "Sometimes you are so close to a problem you can't see it."
Perera said she plans to update the school board and community quarterly as the review progresses.
The review is part of a larger transition plan Perera outlined to the board. She's also getting to know, and receive feedback from, various district stakeholders, including local officials, business leaders, parents, and of course, teachers and staff in the schools and district.
Responding to school board member Sharon Garner about the cost of the review, Perera said it would likely cost between $10,000 and $25,000. The money will be used to pay the consulting fees of the education experts that will help evaluate and analyze the district, she noted.
A Louisiana native, Perera took over from Jim Schlachter, who retired. The district, the state's 10th largest, has about 12,140 students enrolled. In 2015, 74 percent of its students graduated, just about the same as the state average.
Perera recently served as an educational consultant in the Houston area and as the national director of the urban markets division for textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education.
Prior to that, she was superintendent for the Isle of Wight County Schools in Smithfield, Va., for four years during which she was named 2015 Superintendent of the Year by the National Association of School Superintendents. Before that, she was an area superintendent at Houston Independent School District, the nation's seventh-largest, with more than 200,000 students.
Perera plans to use the results of the Gresham-Barlow district review in a plan for the next few years. Some changes could be implemented in fall 2018, she said.
"If the plan goes out too long," she said, "it's just pretty words on a page, and nobody pays any attention to it."